Around the world innovation

The Siblings of Future Urban Farming – Aeroponics and its twin brother, Hydroponics

The Siblings of Future Urban Farming

The Musk Legacy

Photo by Jessika Arraes on

As the world fixates on Elon Musk and his interstellar ventures into unchartered areas of technology and business, it has seemingly overshadowed recent steps into a world that contains an alluring bag of potential. However, we don’t have to move away from the bloodline of the Musk family to give us an indication of the exciting developments in the world of vertical farming, primarily in relation to Aeroponics and Hydroponics, two brothers that roam the Earth with a shared purpose – to solve growing problems. Growingin the previous sentence is a fitting, ambiguous word in this debate.

Kimbal Musk, his younger brother, recently opened a shipping container in New York City that would act as a catalyst in bringing forth the ‘’Real Food Revolution’’ and doing so in ways that can be extremely useful now that the urbanization of the world becomes a multidimensional challenge for traditional methods of farming. While Elon looks to the stars, Kimbal’s principal goal has been the accessibility of food for all American citizens. Doing so with a big heart in the form of his ‘’Kitchen Café’’ centred around the idea of a close-knit community spirit.

While these dreams have been realized in the form of community-based services, he is now moving to the outer circles in this process, mainly agriculture and hydroculture that specify the terms ‘’aeroponics’’ encompassed by ‘’hydroponics’’ as being two chief processes that will ease his journey into the conceivable future. Don’t let these names fool you into thinking that these processes mean something byzantine and difficult– they don’t. Setting up a sustainable, effective operation in relation to these mechanisms is a whole other story.

The Siblings of Growth

Aeroponics is simply concerned with growing plants in an environment consisting of air without using soil or an aggregate medium (such as sand or gravel for instance). With the absence of this medium, there’s a need for a nutrient-rich, water solution which makes up half of the magic in itself. The other half in this process is the closed environment in which the plants grow. Just like with magic, you can perform a trick by saying the right words, but if you don’t move the wand with the right movement, it could backfire with unfortunate consequences. The golden spot is to spray this solution on the dangling roots and lower-stem of the plant. Abracadabra. Hydroponics dwells on the same path but instead focuses on water as the main solvent in which the nutrient-rich solution is placed.

From Space to Earth and back again

The degree of dimension that lies in these two processes, however, wasn’t first to be noticed by Kimbal by any means. From what we know so far, the untapped source of potential that lies in aeroponics and hydroponics are enticing. Many would assume that its principal discoveries relate to our own Earth, but as it turns out it dwells on a topic related to Elon’s interstellar ventures, mainly space. When NASA, in the 1990’s, conducted growth experiments in zero gravity during various missions on the ISS (International Space Station) and Mir, it was discovered that plants really did not need to have soil as an aggregate medium. Taking these ideas back to Earth was something that many, only two decades later, realized was something applicable to a vast array of different areas including vertical farming.

Vertical farming has already made headlines in New Jersey where the world’s largest ‘’Aerofarms’’ factory stands proud with 70 000 square feet of plants utilizing these mechanisms for the future. Around the world, a growing number of such farms are appearing as they serve to meet future needs – produce plants in greener, cheaper and more efficient ways, especially with urbanization serving as a multidimensional challenge to this question. The solution, furthermore, does not only come from within. These processes look towards external factors such as the environment itself. Vertical farming hinders pests and bad weather to cause any damage to the plants, which will present itself in an advantageous form as the future comes with its climate and weather-obstacles.

When it comes to hydroponics, there have been many gardens sprouting its greens while utilizing it as a main system. One such garden complex exists at Gotham Greens, a $2 million greenhouse situated in New York. It has seen profitable activities ranging from the successful harvest of crops, all the way to features of quality, freshness in the plants themselves. The distinct quality can certainly be felt as it reaches consumers, which is why hydroponics gives an edge as a USP. Not to mention the job creation that comes with it. It’s safe to say that both aeroponics and hydroponics have sprouted several such homeruns in the gloomy field of agriculture.

Cynics and traditional agriculturalists seem to dwell on its downsides. The disadvantages come in the form of the current high cost of capital and the technological requirements for the operations to be sustained, but this could be tackled in the form of growing competition that is already taking place in the Far East, where such costs can be brought down to ‘’smaller-farm’’ prices. While the larger-scale farms can be treated as just like any other regular farm, there is still a significant limit to the complexity and sheer number of crops that could be produced. Authenticity, as a key word in this debate, seems to not be associated with these processes as they see the principal matter of soil as crucial in order to grow healthy crops. From a scientific standpoint, no such conclusions can yet be drawn.

Notwithstanding these adversities, the future spearheaded by Kimbal Musk as an innovator in this revolution, we should see these processes in a light of intrigue and possibility. After all, we’ve reached a day and age where private individuals can make leaps for mankind in space, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t paths yet to be trampled on in our own Earth.

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